Some more thoughts on Intelligent Design
I have noticed a resurgence of posts around the blogosphere on intelligent design again. Most are accompanied with assertions that anyone who is taught intelligent design will be less versed, and less knowledgeable in science, and that therefore if the U.S. were to allow such heresy to be taught our hopes of scientific advancement would be quashed for all time. I exaggerate, but only slightly. This seems to me to be pretty foolish. First off, as best as I recall, we spent maybe a month or two total out of all my high school education (at a pretty good school) covering evolution. The rest of High School biology was mostly learning classifications and cutting up dead animals. If someone who wanted a career in biological science failed to get a good grounding from their high school education, they could probably fill in the gaps with an afternoon of reading. However, even then I don't think that studying Intelligent Design would have that effect in any event. From what I understand of ID theory, and I don't claim to be an expert so correct me if I am wrong, evolution is necessary but not sufficient to explain the complexity of life on earth. Basically, ID theory boils down to the concept that their are gaps between what can be explained by random mutation and natural selection and that those gaps are best explained by the actions of an intelligent force. ID doesn't deny that evolution happens, rather evolution itself is integral to ID theory and to understand ID, you have to fairly completely understand evolution. This is part of the reason I am not an expert on the subject. Typically, when ID is criticized by pundits, what they are actually criticizing is Creationism, which pretty much denies that evolution occurs at all (this post by Ezra Klein is a good example of that.) Now, I do have some problems with ID. I am pretty unconvinced that an Intelligent Designer is more likely than a as yet undiscovered natural process to explain any of their specific evolutionary questions. It also appears to me, as a layman, that some of their critiques of evolutionary biology are mistaken and are satisfactorily explained by current science. Lastly, for those who find the theoretical Intelligent Designer to be evidence for God, I find that to be very poor theology. Any omnipotent being who mostly used natural processes (as the Designer postulated by intelligent design obviously does) must have a reason for doing so, and for keeping direct evidence of their existence hidden. The idea that such a being was able to mostly do this, but not completely strikes me as pretty weak, and would be a pretty pathetic God. If Christian fundamentalists were brighter, they would shun ID as a far more pernicious heresy than anything Darwin ever said. However, that is beside the point as to whether we should teach ID or not. While I disagree that a designer is necessarily the most likely explanation for things we do not understand, it is not, in and of itself, an unscientific explanation. There are many areas of science where we look speculate on likelihoods and probabilities. SETI is, in my opinion, science, and the concept of extra-terrestrial intelligent life and how we look for them is something that has a place in science classes. The existence of intelligent life, like that of the intelligent designer, is not falsifiable. Understanding the holes in current evolutionary theory, understanding that all is not yet explained and that more research needs to be done, is the key to understanding science. Science is a process of continually refining our understanding. It seems to me that ID teaches that quite well, and that any High School student who had a solid grounding in Intelligent Design theory would be better, not less, prepared for a career in Science, and particularly Biological Sciences, than one who did not.